In his book Jesus on Every Page (54-59), David Murray discusses the pitfalls involved in preaching from Old Testament characters. Among other things, writes Murray, this approach is
- Man-centred – It puts God in the background, when he should be in the foreground. We should be preaching, not human character traits, but God’s nature, character and will.
- Moralistic – It turns the Old Testament into a manual of do’s and don’ts, rather than a revelation of God’s actions.
- Subjective – It encourages too sudden a leap to questions such as, “Am I a Moses? Am I a Daniel?”
- Fragmenting – It focuses too much on individual episodes, rather than on the overall sweep of the biblical story.
- Christ-less – When detached from redemptive history, OT stories no longer point to Christ.
- Individualistic – By emphasising individual characters, this approach often neglects corporate relationships and responsibilities.
How then should we preach from Old Testament characters?
Murray quotes Sidney Greidanus, who calls us to ’employ biblical characters the way the Bible employs them, not as ethical models, not as heroes for emulation or examples for warning, but as people whose story has been taken up into the Bible in order to reveal what God is doing for and through them.’
Clearly, there is a place for preaching from these Old Testament characters. Paul highlights Abraham, James spotlights Job and Elijah, and the writer to the Hebrews offers a host of OT examples.
What we must do, however, is to
- keep God, not man, in the foreground
- distinguish Christian morality from mere moralism by stressing that we need the grace of Jesus to obey more requirements and his forgiveness when we fail
- avoid introspective subjectivism by looking at Jesus, rather than at self
- related each story to the plan of redemption
- look for Jesus when study Jesus’ people
- look for the original purpose for the original audience
- include the corporate and eternal perspectives even when looking at individual lives